Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time to write

I call this blog "Talking to Myself." It's sort of my practice blog. Once I've done a lot of practicing and feel I've got this blogging thing down, I'll start a real blog and try to get folks to read it. But I think there are two or three people besides me who read this blog from time to time, and I just wanted to let y'all know that I'm not going to be posting very much for a while, because next month, starting tomorrow at 12:01 a.m., I am going to write a novel.

The scariest costume I'll see all day

So I walk into the Red Cup just now for a breakfast burrito, and this guy comes in behind me in a Confederate uniform.

I think this is why I gave up doing Hallowe'en. Somewhere deep in my bones, I don't believe there is any such thing as a harmless fantasy. I remember an old dyke back in Oregon who told me once, "What you practice is what you get good at." Fantasy is a form of practice. (Or sometimes, it's a form a memory, but that's a different can of worms.) I don't think we completely create our own reality, but visualization is very powerful.

So I'm kinda procrastinating about finishing my breakfast and walking home. I'm kinda hoping this guy goes away before I do. Because I think it's best that I not have any opportunity to discuss his costume with him. Because from my point of view, there is nothing about the Confederacy that is quaint, comic, romantic, or worthy of emulation. If you think I'm joking, start reading the first autobiography of Frederick Douglass. And yes, the Civil War was about slavery. Lincoln may have started out with a willingness to continue to allow slavery if the union could be saved. By the time he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, that was all over. The Emancipation Proclamation was a matter of pragmatic war strategy. The Union absolutely depended on the armed service of free blacks and emancipated slaves in order to win the war.

And yet, in some ways the Civil War is still not over. The war between Blue and Gray is the historical beginning of the hostility between "blue states" and "red states." Slavery was once known as "the patriarchal institution," and in the 21st century, neo-Confederates do their best to defend the rule of the richest white men over everybody else. So the guy in that gray uniform is definitely the scariest thing I'll see all day--unless someone else has the bad taste to show up wearing a storm trooper costume with a swastika or a white sheet with a pointed hood.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Free speech and hate speech

A friend of mine on Facebook posted links to two YouTube videos about some outrageous acts of right-wing incitement that have taken place recently. First is a video of the marvelous Rachel Maddow talking with former religious-right organizer Frank Schaeffer about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Second is a video about anti-abortion vigilante Randall Terry encouraging people to burn Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid in effigy this Hallowe'en because they will "burn in hell" for sponsoring health insurance reform legislation.

Watching these videos reminded me how tricky and complicated the issue of free speech is.

The right to free speech is not trivial. It is a right that needs to be used carefully and responsibly, because the pen, and the video camera, are indeed mightier than the sword. Legal words can inspire illegal actions that have terrible consequences. Just because you have the constitutional right to say something doesn't mean it is morally right for you to say it. If right-wing rabble-rousers describe their opponents as "murderers," and invite their supporters to symbolically burn them at the stake, they oughtn't express surprise if listeners take their words as the justification for real acts of violence. And it's really not fair for them to whine when commentators such as Rachel Maddow use their own free-speech rights to point this out.

I suspect that some folks would like to go one step further and make it illegal for evil-speakers like Bill O'Reilly and Randall Terry to spew their poisonous rants. I'm guessing these folks would say that it's okay to oppose abortion rights, and it's okay to oppose health care reform -- but you need to be moderate and responsible in the way that you do this. And if you're not, there ought to be some kind of legal penalty. We have to stop hate speech before it destroys us. To these folks, I would like to say, not so fast. Yes, we need to stop hate speech, but passing a law to do that is likely to have serious unintended consequences.

Back when I was in college, I took a course in constitutional law. This was maybe 30 years ago, so I apologize that I don't remember the names of all the cases that we studied. But here is how I remember the case law on free speech. Remember how you don't have a right to "yell `fire!' in a crowded theater?" Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it came from a case involving people resisting the draft during World War I. There was a law -- I think it was called the Espionage Act -- that said that if you encouraged people to avoid military service, you were committing a felony and could be sent to jail. (You remember World War I, right? That was supposed to be "the war to end all war," but all it accomplished was the humiliation and impoverishment of Germany -- which set the stage for World War II.)

Wait. I just had a brainstorm. Due to the miracle of Wikipedia, I don't have to dig through the stuff in my junk room to see if I kept those old notes from college. I can point you to an entry about the Espionage Act of 1917, which leads me to an entry about Schenck v. United States, the case in which the supposedly liberal Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. penned the famous phrase about fire in a crowded theater. In case this isn't absolutely clear, I want to emphasize the Holmes wrote a concurring opinion for the court in upholding this act, which had such bizarre consequences as the following:
The poet E. E. Cummings and his friend William Slater Brown, then volunteers in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in France, were arrested on September 21, 1917. Cummings' "espionage" consisted mainly of his having openly spoken of his lack of hatred for the Germans.[2] The two were sent to a military detention camp, the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy, where they languished for 3½ months. Cummings' experiences in the camp were later related in his novel, The Enormous Room.

Publications which the Wilson Administration determined were guilty of violating the Act "were subject to being deprived of mailing privilege, a blow to most periodicals," according to Sidney Kobre's book Development of American Journalism. A section of the Act allowed the Postmaster General to declare all letters, circulars, newspapers, pamphlets, packages and other materials that violated the Act to be unmailable. As a result, about 75 newspapers either lost their mailing privileges or were pressured to print nothing more about World War I between June 1916 and May 1918. Among the publications which were censored as a result of the Act were two Socialist Party daily newspapers, the New York Call and the Milwaukee Leader. The editor of the Leader, Victor Berger, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after being convicted on a charge of conspiracy to violate the Act; this was later reversed on a technicality. Other publications banned from the mails were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) journal Solidarity, American Socialist, bohemian radical magazine The Masses, German-American or German-language newspapers, pacifist publications, and Irish nationalist publications (such as Jeremiah O'Leary's Bull).
I can also point you to a biography of the grand old socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, who was imprisoned under the Espionage Act for giving this speech. He compared the despotic rulers of Germany with the supposedly democratic rulers of the United States, and found that they ruled in just about the same way. The speech is as gentle as it is eloquent, but ya know, it certainly implied that the US government was illegitimate and ought to be replaced.

My point should be obvious. Laws restricting "hate speech," or laws restricting criticism of the government are just as likely -- or more likely -- to be used against progressives, feminists, and left-wing radicals than they are to be used against right-wing haters like Randall or O'Reilly.

Any feminist worth her salt has been accused of being a "man-hater." Advocates for the rights of people of color routinely accused of hating white people. Critics of US intervention in other countries are routinely accused of trying to destroy the United States.

As painful as it is to contemplate, in order for the right of free speech to be safe, it has to apply to the hateful and immoderate as well as to the thoughtful and responsible. We need to distinguish between hate speech and hate crimes.

There is a difficult but very effective way to stop the haters. We have to do what Rachel Maddow does. We have to speak out against them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free Market efficiency is a myth when it comes to health care

Our Bodies Our Blog has a great post on activism to pass a health-care plan. It includes this great little six-page document that summarizes the issues at stake.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is this good news or bad news?

T r u t h o u t reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that the health care bill that will be introduced on the Senate floor will include a "public option"--a government run plan that will compete with private insurers for the business of individuals and businesses not currently covered by insurance. The catch is that states will be able to "opt out" of the public option, and deliver their residents into the clutches of the health insurance industry.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Former Oklahoma legislator challenges bizarre new abortion law in well-publicized case

I think most folks would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions that take place. As a feminist, I support the right to choose abortion because it is sometimes the best solution to a bad situation, and because I support the right of women to make decisions about what goes on inside our own bodies.

If we want to reduce abortion, the most practical way to do that is to empower women to keep from becoming pregnant when they don't want to be pregnant. We might do everything in our power to make contraception and family planning services available. And -- call me an old school lesbian feminist if you like -- we might even work to overturn compulsory heterosexuality.

Instead, the Oklahoma Legislature takes the patriarchal approach of trying to bully and humiliate women who seek to end an unwanted pregnancy.

I first learned of this story in an e-mail update from the National Partnership for Women and Families. Their post relied largely on an online article in the Guardian of London, which linked to a piece on Salon.com about an off-the-wall new Oklahoma law that takes truly bizarre steps to interfere with the rights of women to have an abortion. The Salon.com piece linked to the web site of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and this is the best place to begin to read about this bizarre new Oklahoma law.

According to CRR, back at the end of September
former Oklahoma state representative Wanda Stapleton, along with Shawnee, Oklahoma resident Lora Joyce Davis, filed a legal challenge against an Oklahoma law that will impose a host of restrictions on women's access to abortion and cost the state over a quarter of a million dollars a year to enforce. The plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and argue that the state legislature overstepped its authority by enacting a statute that will both violate the Oklahoma's Constitution and waste taxpayers' money.

The Oklahoma Constitution requires that laws address only one subject at a time, but the new measure covers four distinct subjects, including redefining a number of abortion-related terms used in the Oklahoma code; banning sex-selective abortion; requiring doctors who perform abortions or treat patients who have had abortions to report extensive patient information to the state health department; and creating new responsibilities for the State Health Department, the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, and the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners relating to gathering and analyzing abortion data and enforcing abortion restrictions. According to the legislature's own estimates, implementing the new reporting requirements will cost the state $281,285 during the first year and $256,285 each subsequent year.
Lynn Harris at salon.com has a chilling description of the new law :
The required questionnaire (see PDF of entire law), practically as long and elaborate as eHarmony's (and containing fishy questions such as "Was there an infant born alive as a result of the abortion?"), does not include the name, address or "any information specifically identifying the patient." But opponents argue that the first eight questions alone would be enough to out any woman in a town of 200 or smaller.

Also, doctors failing to provide this information would face criminal sanctions and loss of their medical license.

It isn’t unique for a state to post health data on its Web site. However, Oklahoma’s requirements are by far the most extensive as such. The law's supporters claim they want this information to be made public so it can be used for "academic research," but according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, its collection method makes it useless for that purpose. (If a woman sees more than one doctor concerning her abortion -- primary care and abortion provider, say -- the data, collected each visit, will appear to represent more than one patient.)

The good news is, thanks to CRR, the law -- originally scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1 -- has been stayed pending a Dec. 4 hearing.

Also, according to CRR, back in August
a state district court struck down a 2008 law that included, among other abortion restrictions, the most extreme ultrasound requirement in the country and a requirement that would have limited the availability of abortions performed with the medical abortion pill. The court in that case ruled that the statute included too many disparate topics and therefore violated the state constitution.
CRR is also challenging the current law on the grounds that it addresses more than one topic, in violation of the state constitution, which gives hope that the new law will also be overturned.

Tests are not always for the best

We've all heard that early detection is important to help prevent deaths from breast cancer--but sometimes the benefits of screening are questionable. The American Cancer Society, long a proponent of mammograms and prostate cancer screening, has started to take a more cautious approach towards these tests.

Feminist Peace Network (one of my very favorite blogs) has a thought-provoking post on this topic. Over-testing has the effect of causing women to undergo treatments that they don't really need, while not really helping to prolong lives.

It seems to me that health care reform means not just providing health insurance to everyone, but doing our best to make sure that treatments benefit patients, and not just the profit margins of health care providers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is insurance industry running scared?

Maggie Mahar at Health Beat asks Why are Health Insurers Launching An 11th Hour Attack on Health Care Reform?
and says, in a long but very interesting post, that it's because they know that a public option has a very good chance of making it into the final health care bill.

Monday, October 19, 2009

US banks still in trouble

Thanks to CommonDreams.org for picking up Paul Krugman's New York Times op-ed piece on the continuing troubles of US banks.

Krugman argues that "while the wheeler-dealer side of the financial industry, a k a trading operations, is highly profitable again, the part of banking that really matters — lending, which fuels investment and job creation — is not. Key banks remain financially weak, and their weakness is hurting the economy as a whole."

As if to prove Krugman's point comes the news of CIT Group's worsening condition. CIT is a lender to small and mid-sized businesses whose collapse could seriously threaten the chances of recovery in the real economy.

Reflections on Marriage

Melissa Harris-Lacewell has some really interesting Reflections on Marriage over at thenation.com.

Afghan women don't want more US troops, CodePink founder tells Obama at fundraiser

AlterNet has the story.
Earlier in the month, Evans recently visited Afghanistan over a ten-day period along with a group of CodePink activists, and she was clear in a recent AlterNet article about what she saw -- a humanitarian crisis: "The United States has spent a quarter of a trillion dollars in eight years of military action: what have we achieved? Most of the country is in worse condition, the bordering countries are less stable and death fills the air. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is ranked 181 out of 182 countries for human development indices. Life expectancy has fallen to 43 years since the U.S. invasion. Forty percent of the population is unemployed, and 42 percent live on less than $1 a day."

Friday, October 16, 2009

What real reform looks like

Maybe, like me, you've received an e-mail from barackobama.com urging you to attend an Oct. 20 event designed to get folks to call their congress critters in support of the president's health care plan.

Maybe, like me, you've been concerned that the president doesn't really have a health care plan, but often seems eager to pass any kind of legislation that says "health care reform," just so he can claim it as an accomplishment.

If so, I think you will want to read a great post by John Nichols over at thenation.com, who says Here's What to Tell Obama, Congress About Real Reform.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How pilot lights work

Recently I re-lit my floor furnace. While I was at it, I took lots of pictures and posted them on Facebook, along with lots of little comments. One of the comments I made was that the pilot light of the floor furnace generates enough electricity to operate the thermostat. (In the event of an ice storm bad enough to cause a power outage, this is a handy little feature.) A viewer of this Facebook album asked, reasonably enough, does the pilot light really generate electricity?

Well, yes it does, it says so right in the manual for the floor furnace. But my manual doesn't say how this works. Fortunately the web site How Stuff Works seems to have the answer to this question.
Thermocouples generate electricity directly from heat. They take advantage of an electrical effect that occurs at junctions between different metals. For example, take two iron wires and one copper wire. Twist one end of the copper wire and one end of one of the iron wires together. Do the same with the other end of the copper wire and the other iron wire. If you heat one of the twisted junctions with a flame and attach the two free iron wires to a volt meter, you will be able to measure a voltage.

In a pilot light, one of the junctions of a thermocouple is sitting in the pilot light's flame. The electricity that is created runs to a small electromagnetic valve and holds it open. If the pilot light blows out, the thermocouple quickly cools off. It stops generating electricity and the valve closes.

Pretty neat, huh?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What will Congress do now that it has five health care bills?

Open Left has an interesting post describing how the five bills that have been passed by House and Senate committees will turn into one bill that becomes law.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Insurance industry bites hand that feeds it as finance committee votes on health care bill

Whoops. I've been so busy getting ready to write a novel next month that I started to lose track of the health care debate.

When last we visited this debate, three House Committees and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee had already voted on some version of a health care bill. Now it's the turn of the Senate Finance Committee, which is scheduled to vote today.

The Finance Committee is chaired by Montana Senator Mike Baucus, who is variously described as a moderate Democrat or an insurance industry toady, depending on who is doing the describing. Baucus's goal has been to create a "moderate" bill that Republicans and the for-profit healthcare industry can support. For Baucus, the key to gaining that support has been not to have even a very watered-down version of a public option -- a government-run plan that would compete with private insurers.

The problem is, the Finance Committee bill--like the other bills making their way through Congress--requires almost everyone to purchase health care insurance, and without a public option, that could be a very expensive purchase. According to National Public Radio, in order to address this issue,
Last-minute changes made subsidies more generous and softened the penalties for those who don't comply with a proposed new mandate for everyone to buy insurance. The latter change drew the ire of the health insurance industry, which said that without a strong and enforceable requirement not enough people would get insured, and premiums would jump for everyone else.

AMERICAblog points out the irony of the insurance industry attacking the Baucus bill, and in another post, links to this video of  New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner explaining how the insurance industry's opposition to the Baucus bill makes the case for a public option:



Don't let states opt out of public option

Maggie Mahar over at Health Beat explains why its not necessary to allow states to opt-out of a public option in order to pass a health care bill--and why it's not right.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun with a floor furnace (Don't try this at home)

I have always thought that one should never expect anything from the weather. By its very nature, weather is ever-changing and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the recent cold and rain in Oklahoma City caught me by surprise. I wasn't thinking that I'd need to light my floor furnace for at least another month. Then I noticed that the temperature inside my house had started to drop to uncomfortable levels. Yesterday, it was 55 degrees inside. This morning, it was 50. Time to act.

Fortunately, last year when I bought my little house, I downloaded the manual for my floor furnace from the manufacturer's web site. So, after a delicious breakfast at the Red Cup, I got right to work.



First, I needed to clean the darned thing. This required me to get out my shop vac.




Then I had to put the cat away in the bedroom so she wouldn't get into the furnace when I opened it up to clean it. Next, I removed the register and the inner casing. Here's how it looked after the register was taken off, while the casing was still in place. I like this photo because you can see the controls over on the left, and how the whole thing fits together:



It took a while to vacuum out all of the accumulated dust, debris, and foreign objects. About two-thirds of the way through this process, I had to stop to clean out the vacuum. The hose seemed to be clogged with cat hair. Go figure. Once I finished with this step, I removed two of the vent covers from the house foundation so that the heater would be properly vented once it was lit. Then it was time to go under the house.

Here's what it looks like under the house as I crawled back toward the underside of the heater:



The chimney needs some repair, which you can tell when you crawl up closer to it. (I need to find a mason.) The furnace itself has a little bit of external rust, but it seems to be in good shape.



I inspected the furnace, all the fittings I could see, and the connections of the flue to the furnace and the chimney. I cleaned all the debris out of the debris pan. First I tried a little brush, and then a rag. Finally, I used some canned air, and that did the trick. You can barely see part of the debris pan in the photo above. Look for a little flat thing on the bottom middle of the furnace.

Here's where the flue enters the chimney:




This photo shows some of the other issues I need to resolve with the house. First, I need to dig (or, possibly, have someone dig) a French drain to keep water from dissolving the east wall and flowing under the house:



But I have a novel that I need to write in November, so that project may have to wait for spring.

I love to hang out under my house, but eventually it's time to get myself out from under.

And then it was time to go back indoors and light the furnace, following the instructions in the manual. At first I didn't see the part about holding down the gas control while I used the automatic spark switch, but it worked just fine with a match. Now my house is warm and cozy.



Some of that is due to the fact that my floor furnace is blazing away merrily, but I also had a lot of help from my friends in getting the house ready to move into. And when it's cold outside, having good friends keeps my heart warm.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And I still ain't satisfied

It is a beautiful gray October morning, and the inside of my head this morning is still gray and foggy, because of the weather, because I work nights and it takes me a while to get going in the morning. So I'm sitting at my desk with my front door open, and absent-mindedly browsing my blogroll, when I come across this post on Open Left. It's basically a link to this video:



Sometimes the sun burns through the clouds a little bit, and I think I'd like to sit out on the porch and play the harmonica, or maybe sit right here at my desk and re-write a few poems, or maybe do some day-dreaming and note-taking for the novel I'm going to write next month. But instead, here's this interesting and complicated issue about a domestic partnership referendum in Washington State sitting in front of me.

And for me, this could get really complicated. I'm an old-fashioned lesbian feminist with lots of reservations about the old-fashioned patriarchal institution of marriage. And thinking about this ignites the burning nostalgia for a time in which we were going to change the world, really change it, so that everyone was equal and free, and not just try to take our equal place in a fucked up oppressive system. Maybe nostalgia is the wrong word, because I try to live every day of my life to do my part to make that free and equal world possible.

I'm not talking about utopia. I'm not talking about a world free of sorrow or pain. I am talking about a world without the rulers or the ruled. I don't think it's easy, but I think it's possible.

I'm not explaining this very well. I don't know if I can.

So I will confine myself to a much more limited goal. I will give you links to a couple of Wikipedia entries to help you understand the situation in Washington State, and keep my ambivalence and my complicated feelings to myself.

The first entry describes domestic partner laws in Washington State, and the second entry explains Referendum 71.

The wind is still blowing and the sun is still trying to break through. I'm going out now to sit on the portch.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health insurance reform -- read all about it.

Here are some reference links about the health care reform debate.

There are currently three bills making their way through Congress, being considered by five different committees. Three different House committees are working on versions of HR 3200. The Senate's HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) has its own bill, and the Senate Finance Committee is working on yet a different bill. The Senate will merge its two bills, and the House will pass a final version of HR 3200. After that, a conference committee will put together a final version of the bill.

Much of the debate around health care reform centers around the advisability of something called a public option. You can find a description of Jacob Hacker's original proposal for a public option here. (HR 3200 contains a much watered-down version of this proposal that would allow the public option as a choice only for those who don't already have some form of insurance coverage.)

The public option was originally conceived as a compromise that would not be as controversial as single-payer health insurance (sometimes called "Medicare for all.") You can read the text of HR 676 here. You can find more information about single payer on the site of Physicians for a National Health Program. I also wrote a recent post on a conservative version of single payer called balanced choice.

Some of my favorite sources for health care legislations news include
Happy reading.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Battle over healthcare public option continues

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee rejected an amendment that would have added a public option to their health care bill. John Nichols at The Nation thinks this is very bad news.

Maggie Mahar at has a very different analysis over at Health Beat.
We knew that the Senate Finance Committee would reject the public sector option. Now they have done just that.

This is not news. Nor is this a “fatal blow” for progressives.

Will the public option survive a vote on the Senate floor? Probably not—though it could happen. But this still does not mean that the public option is dead.

We know that the bill that emerges from the House will contain a MedicareE (for Everyone) alternative. The House bill and the Senate bill will then go to conference. This is the moment that matters. As a respected HealthBeat reader who knows Washington well recently told me, “Everything else is foreplay.” Much of what we are reading now is posturing--by some politicians ( Charles Schumer deserves an Emmy), by some pundits and by unnamed sources who want reporters to think that they know more than they actually know.

I would be happier if I thought both the Senate and the House bill would include a public option. But that isn’t necessary. All that is necessary is to get a bill through the House, and a bill through the Senate, with or without MedicareE. In Conference, where the two bills are merged, they can put the public option back in.
This all depends on the White House stepping up to support a public option. Mahar thinks that President Obama and his aides will do just this because their political survival depends on delivering health care reform that really works.

When Mahar refers to "MedicareE" it looks as if she's referring to a version of the public option that would allow everyone who wanted to do so to sign up for Medicare, even if they had not yet reached age 65. It would be very good news if this is so, but such a proposal is much stronger than anything in the original language of HR 3200. (I'm reading the darned thing, so I have some clue what I'm talking about.)

Meanwhile Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin insists that a bill including the public option could pass the full Senate by a "comfortable margin."

About Roman Polanski

AngryBlackBitch has said almost everything I would have wished to say on the subject.